We keep hearing about 3D printers and all the customized products just waiting to be newly hatched, but where are all these wonders of the digitized world? With some fanfare, then, a fresh company has arrived to reinvent the orthotic. Yes, the humble orthotic, worn by grim-mouthed uncles and hard-faced professional women, is about to receive a face-lift. “Right now, orthotics aren’t sexy, but there’s no reason they shouldn’t be,” Kegan Schouwenburg, CEO of Sols, told New York Magazine. For those who rely on orthotics to relieve foot pain, sexy may be the least of their concerns.

Old World Orthotics

“People with foot problems are very often people with shoe problems,” Spencer B. Weisbond, C.Ped. told Medical Daily. “And very often people have surgeries to cure the problems caused by those shoes in order to continue wearing those shoes.” He has crafted custom orthotics in a New York shop for the past 22 years and pain is the sole driver of his business. The reasons people avail themselves of his services come down to a handful of foot problems:

  • plantar fasciitis (pain in your heel or the bottom of your foot)
  • posterior tibial tendonitis (pain on the inner side of the foot and ankle)
  • all manner of heel and arch pain
  • “big toe dysfunction, in layman’s terms”
  • metatarsalgia (pain at the ball of the foot)
  • achilles tendonitis (pain in the tendon at the back of the foot)
  • and interdigital neuromas (painful growth in the forefoot)

The conditions Weisbond sees day in, day out do not for the most part change and the value of a given orthotic is, well, obvious. “The proof is in the pudding,” he said. With skepticism, then, Weisbond listened to tales of the new 3D printed, custom orthotic on the block. “There is not yet a computer CAD-CAM process that makes anything that’s worth it,” Weisbond said. “I’m not saying there will not be a CAD-CAM product that is worth it, I’m just not aware of one presently.”

How exactly does Schouwenburg’s sexy and techy orthotic work? Sols will deliver orthotics in two ways. Foot pain sufferers will be able to visit a podiatrist trained on the system, and there will also be a direct-to-consumer experience. On the customer’s end, this pared-down process is relatively simple. Her New York-based company, appropriately named Sols, has created software that allows you to take a scan of your feet with an iPhone. From there, you send the scan to the company, where it is processed along with weight and activity level to generate what the company’s website refers to as a “highly-accurate foot model.” Next, a 3D printer spins out a corrective orthotic made of flexible, anti-microbial nylon. Finally, the completed product, dyed any color your heart desires, is delivered within two weeks for approximately $100, according to Wired magazine

“How are you going to make a 3-D cast from a 2-D picture, albeit a video?” Weisbond asks. “You have to be able to get height of arch, length of arch, angle of heel, shape of foot. Without that information that you can hold in your hand, how can you accurately take a cast of anything?”

Schouwenburg speaks of advances in 3D printing with savvy and impressive first-hand experience; she once designed production systems and was responsible for a 25,000 square foot manufacturing facility that produced over a thousand unique objects every day. Yet somehow she is less convincing when speaking about orthotics. She told Wired, “I’ve always had bad feet, I grew up wearing orthotics,” then she mentions moving to New York, where she “discovered heels, and never looked back.” And although she’s run trials for her new product with 15 podiatrist offices, she seems to mention markets more than foot pain and in all the photographs, Sols orthotics just look too darn thin!

It makes you long for the admittedly dorky, unabashedly old-school, I-deal-with-your-pain orthotic. “Mine is an old-world skill,” Weisbond told Medical Daily, “and nothing has changed in over 50 years.” Luddites of the world unite!